Thursday, 30 June 2016


Boris Johnson rules himself out of Conservative leader race

You just couldn’t make it up, or at least, if you did, no-one would believe you.
It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense. — Mark Twain

The man chooses a position he doesn’t believe in (the Leave campaign) purely to bolster his chances for becoming Prime Minister.  He then wins the campaign, to his great surprise, and horror.  He then chooses not to run for PM after all.

He broke the country, then chickened out.  Well, finally realising he’s out of his depth is the first sensible thing he’s done. Pity he didn’t realise it sooner, before he broke the country.

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Monday, 27 June 2016


17 million of my fellow citizens have voted that UK should leave the EU.  They did so for a variety of reasons.

Some of the voters are vile racist thugs.  I blame them.

More have been made racist because they have grown up in a seething toxic atmosphere served up by the sewer press, and have come to believe the lies that they have been constantly fed.  I blame them a bit, but I blame the sewer press much more: publishing lies to sell papers, and to further the self-serving political ends of their owners.

Some are hankering to go back to a non-existent good old days.  I blame them.

Some are the well-off and rich elites, who put their own good before the good of the whole country.  I blame them.

Some are the have-nothing underclass who voted as they did to shaft both the government and the elites, seen as the enemy.  They felt they have nothing more to lose.  (They will discover they are wrong; some are already regretting their decision as the lies they were told are being exposed.)  It is natural for people who feel they have nothing to lose to lash out, to hurt those who have hurt them.  I don’t blame them.  I blame a succession of bad governments who have systematically failed to address inequality and poverty.  In particular, I blame them for their heartless austerity policies that punish the poor for the crimes of the rich.

But it isn’t just is the fault of the voters.

I do partly blame the EU, for not making it clear the good it does, and for not robustly tackling the problems that it surely has, thereby making it harder to run a positive campaign.

I mostly blame David Cameron, for calling the referendum in the first place.  He did it purely for temporary political expediency, believing it would quieten down the far right opposition once they had lost.  I blame him for being so out of touch with public opinion that he didn’t forsee the chance of a loss.  I blame him for running a weak, negative, fear-mongering campaign.

But most of all I blame Boris Johnson.  He fought in the Leave campaign purely for personal political gain.  He didn’t want to win: he merely wanted to be seen as someone who had tried, in order to get the backing needed for a leadership battle.  He didn’t expect to win: it took him by surprise.  And he is so incompetent that he didn’t even have a plan for what to do once he had won.

I blame them.  Between them, David Cameron and Boris Johnson have broken my country, in an act of appalling cultural vandalism.

What we need now is for the government to show courage and leadership.  To say, thank you public for giving us your opinion on membership of the EU.  We have seriously considered it, along with much other information to which you have not had access, and have decided not to invoke Article 50 in this case, as it would be bad for the country as a whole.  Oh, and then call a general election.

Will this happen?  It would need courage and leadership.  So probably not.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

film review: Mad Max Fury Road

Max [Tom Hardy] is mad, roaming the desert all hairy and wild. He is captured and taken to the Citadel for use as a universal blood donor. But when truck driver Furiosa [Charlize Theron] helps five slave-wives escape, all hell breaks loose. The War Boys, taking a bound and muzzled Max along as donor/mascot, chase after Furiosa and the oil truck she is driving away with the wives. Max escapes, and joins a suspicious Furiosa. They team up to outrace the War Boys to find the Green Place. But they find something rather different.

This is fast and furious. The first half of the film is a chase across the desert, gun blazing, cars and trucks crashing, and the second half is a chase back across the desert, gun blazing, cars and trucks crashing. There is very little let up, very little dialogue, and much very well done CGI and SFX.

Given how little dialogue there is, it might seem surprising that this film easily passes the Bechdel Test. Yet what little dialogue there is, includes several scenes of Furiosa and the wives (who do have names) talking about freedom, the past, and what they might find at the Green Place. Max himself doesn't even speak until well into the film, once he has managed to remove his muzzle.

One might even call this a feminist film. Furiosa is an excellent character: tough enough to drive the oil truck under fire, a better shot than Max (I love the scene where he shoulders the gun), compassionate enough to help the slave-wives to freedom, and definitely in charge. Of course, this is all set in a world that is a non-feminist post-apocalyptic hell-hole. There is a small gynocracy at the Green Place, which allows several older women to have strong parts, until Furiosa and Max bring the War Boys down on them, that is! In fact, there are more women characters with speaking roles than there are men.

This film also has an interesting take on disability. Furiosa is missing her left arm below the elbow, and has a mechanical prosthesis. This is never commented on by any of the characters; we just see her using her prosthetic arm and hand casually and competently, and it is woven naturally into the plot.

These features help pack a solid amount of plot in the film, which, given the continual adrenaline-packed wild chase scenes, and that lack of dialogue, is a remarkable achievement. A surprising amount gets communicated with just a grunt or a glance, to an audience who knows the context. This is an excellent addition to the series, if you like wild chases with lots of cartoon violence.

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Friday, 24 June 2016

lovely weather for...

garden visitor who doesn’t seem to mind all the rain

Black Friday

UK votes to leave EU.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

"Politics is about compromise"

Ben Goldacre, with his usual trenchant good sense:

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Tuesday, 21 June 2016

mic drop

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Monday, 20 June 2016

how do you get in?

The ideal home.  Remember to make the floor strong enough for the compacting bookshelves

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Sunday, 19 June 2016

one picture in the style of another

Rather than just looking at others’ work, I’ve been playing around with the “one picture in the style of another”, using the software available online at authors’ website.

I’ve been systematically trying pictures, each in the style of all the others, to come up with an interesting set.  I got the following:

(click to embiggen)
The four original pictures are each a 500 500 pixel portion of: Hokusai’s The Great Wave, van Gogh’s The Starry Night, da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and a woodland scene I photographed at Wai-O-Tapu in New Zealand.

The leading diagonal shows the original pictures.  Each row shows one original in the style of all the other pictures; each column shows all the pictures in the style of one original.

I think I like the “in the style of the Great Wave” column best, but they are all interesting and nice to look at, especially the twiggy Mona Lisa.

Hours of harmless fun available…

Saturday, 18 June 2016

...and proceeded to tear the paper to shreds

The Great Minds Journal Club discusses Westfall & Yarkoni (2016) 
... it turns out it’s quite difficult to publish a paper titled After an extensive series of SEM analyses of a massive observational dataset that cost the taxpayer three million dollars to assemble, we still have no idea if bacon causes cancer. Nobody wants to read that paper. 

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Tuesday, 14 June 2016


I never tire of looking at these – one picture in the style of another. With a good choice of pictures, you can get something surreal, beautiful, atmospheric, or just downright weird.

blossom woman

Eyeing Hokusai's Great Wave

The starry lake

star cat

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Ana Mardoll, Suck Fairy incarnate

I’ve always read a lot, and back when I was a child I basically read everything with print on it I could find, working my way through the local library.  One of my favourites was the Narnia series, by C. S. Lewis, in an edition wonderfully illustrated by Pauline Baynes.

I knew at the time they were sexist.  Hey, at the time most children’s books were sexist; I was brought up on Enid Blyton, for heaven’s sake.  I just ignored it as best I could.  I also had an uncomfortable, but unexamined, feeling that they were racist.  I didn’t spot the religious overtones until my older sister pointed them out; I ignored the most overt bits after that.

I remember the books fondly, but haven’t read them in the last several decades.  I was worried whether the Suck Fairy would have taken its toll (although Marjorie Phillips’ Annabel and Bryony survived her ravages).  Anyhow, I’d read them enough that I virtually knew them by heart.  Or so I thought.

My main problem with the Narnia at the time was empathising with the devastating sense of loss the children must have had when they returned home.  Yet absolutely nothing was made of this in the books themselves.  Years later, I came across Jo Walton’s short story Relentlessly Mundane, which captures beautifully everything I’d felt.

So I was going along quite happily with these memories, when a couple of months ago I came across a reference to Ana Mardoll’s blog, which said she was going through the Narnia books, discussing them.  She has indeed been discussing them, deconstructing them, in relentless detail, since mid 2011.  As of current writing, she is halfway through The Horse and His Boy, having already covered The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Silver Chair.  I clicked through, gave the most recent post a cursory glance, then read it, then read the previous one, then the one prior to that, then found the index and started from the beginning, and … I have just emerged from that rabbit hole, having had some of my fondest childhood memories totally eviscerated.

The books aren’t just sexist; they are dreadfully sexist.  They aren’t just racist; they are appallingly racist.  And classist.  They aren’t just nice little religious allegories; they present a dreadfully cruel and capricious religion.  And, possibly most damning of all for my fond memories, they are just very badly written.

Ana Mardoll does a brilliant job picking apart these books.

Sexism: when women and girls do certain things, it’s wicked or evil; when boys or men do analogous things, it’s right and proper.  We have bad Lucy eavesdropping in TVotDT, versus good Peter and Caspian eavesdropping in PC.  We have the wicked White Witch giving Edmund magical food in TLtWatW, versus the good Coriakin serving Lucy a magical meal in TVotDT.  We have the bad Aravis drugging her servant to cover her escape in THaHB, versus Caspian’s tutor the good Doctor Cornelius sending his servants into a charmed sleep for his escape.  Notice how Caspian’s wife never even gets a name?  And there’s much more.

Racism: well, Calormene.  Need I say more?  Well yes.  When brown Calormen do certain things, it’s wicked or evil; when white Narnians or equivalent do analogous things, it’s right and proper.  So we have the wicked slavery of Narnians by Calormenes in TVotDT, versus the good (unacknowledged) slavery of  the mutilated Dufflepuds by a (white) ex-star, also in TVotDT.  Also, there is the racism (or maybe “merely” classism) against the native Narnians: we have the depiction of most of the Talking Beasts as inferior, childlike, lower class.  Yes, even Reepicheep.  (Also, notice how Reepicheep is the only native Narnian on the Dawn Treader.)  And there’s much, much more.

Religion: oh dear, the religion.  So, Aslan is frankly a jerk and a bully.  He leaves Narnia to freeze under the White Witch for a hundred years, only showing up to help some English schoolchildren, and set them up to rule over the natives.  He then leaves Narnia for over a thousand years, to be invaded by Telmarines, who proceed with genocide against the natives, and only shows up to help some English schoolchildren help a Telmarine set himself up to rule over the natives.  A few years later he shows to help the newly installed Telmarine ruler and some English school children on their boat trip.  And so on. He traumatises various characters: Trumpkin, Eustace, Jill Pole, Hwin, Aravis, Bree; all for their own good, of course.  And he has a hate-on for Susan.  (I did notice that originally, maybe because of her name.)

Badly written:  the characters are inconsistent, because they do what is needed for the plot, which does what is needed for the message to be delivered. And the world building is shoddy. Eg, how did a Dryad sing to the infant Reepicheep, since Aslan only later reawakened all the trees?  Eg, there are no humans in Narnia other than Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, yet in THaHB, the delegation to Tashbaan is mostly human.  Maybe these are Archenlanders (and where was it during the White Witch’s reign?) who’ve emigrated to Narnia.  Or maybe the book is actually set after PC, the delegation are Telmarines, and it was only moved earlier in the timeline to allow Lewis to shame Susan yet again?  The timeline in TSC is frankly ludicrous.  Many other plotting weakness are given in Mardoll’s deconstruction.  The entire issue is that Lewis doesn’t seem to care about his characters, or the plot, only his message.

Oh dear.  By the end of each of Mardoll’s blog posts, another little piece of my past has been dissected, examined to destruction, and found terribly wanting, and I am yet further appalled by what I had read as a child and simply not noticed.  (I hope that I might have noticed these things if I had re-read them recently, but who can tell?)

If that were all, that would be more than enough to make Mardoll’s blog worth reading.  But there’s more.  At the end of each post are the comments.

Amazingly, after Mardoll’s seemingly exhaustive dismantlings, the commentariat put forward yet more examples of further horrors that she missed!  But the best comments are the various head canons and fixfics that come to the rescue.  There are loads of gorgeous little fragments of writing that restore Narnia as it should be from the Narnia as it is.  These aren’t consistent with each other, but they provide multiple little strands of possible universes, better Narnias, better both in content and in style, that surround and help replace the appalling, inconsistent, badly-written actual Narnia. Meet the immortal Reepicheep.  See Eustace as the hero.  See the Dufflepuds as the hero.  See Susan as the hero.  Discover how Trumpkin is saving the kingdom from Caspian.  Emapthise with Hwin’s backstory.  Have your childhood rescued, improved, enriched.

Friday, 10 June 2016

I now have superpowers

I’m looking forward to the ALife conference in Cancun this July. In preparation, I got my travel vaccinations today.  Diptheria, polio, tetanus, hepatitis A, and typhoid.  Only two jabs though (and neither at all painful).  I was in and out in less than five minutes!

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Thursday, 9 June 2016

EvoMove demo

Here’s a video from the EvoEvo project meeting I was at last week in Utrecht.

This is a demo of the prototype EvoMove.  Jonas has movement sensors on his hands.  An evolutionary algorithm is taking in the sensor data, clustering it, and using the clusters to produce music.  Jonas’ original moves make the clusters, then he moves to reproduce and reinforce the sounds he likes, and not the sounds he doesn’t.  The final version will allow a sensor-wearing dancer to interact with, control, and adapt to, the music.

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Monday, 6 June 2016

vaster than empires, and more slow

I'm currently editing various books with some slow authors, and have been known to be somewhat slow in submitting things myself.  But never quite this slow…
A Manuscript 47 Years in the Making
A physician invited to write for Scientific American in the 1960s has finally turned in his story

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Friday, 3 June 2016

because cat


from James Nicholl’s Livejournal

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